Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

Sheep and goat Business
in Williamson County


By Dub Ramsel  click on photo for a enlarged view
(These stories cover a period from early 1950's to the late eighties.  These stories have come from my memory with an occasional quote from some Williamson County residents.)


Before the big drought of the 1950's a lot of California Bur clover covered the pastures west of I.H. 35 in Williamson County. This clover was somewhat different from the kind that now exists all over the county. It was broad leafed and provided excellent forage for livestock during the cooler months of the year. Thousands of lambs were taken in for grazing to be marketed for the eastern market. This was a bonus for the ranchers throughout the hill country of Williamson County. Some ranchers like Ralph Reavis bought lambs and grazed them each season. Ralph had thousands of acres of land in Williamson County and Bell County, and was a full time rancher. 

Most of the ranchers raised sheep and kept large numbers to be shorn as well as raise lambs for the market. Sheep, goats and cattle supplemented each other. The cows utilized the tall grasses where the sheep and coats utilized the short crass and winter weeds, as well as the brush, which the goats preferred. 

The hill country land was by far the cheapest in price. Good black land farm land sold for a hundred dollars per acre, while the ranch land sold for a third of that price. Some sold for as little as fifteen dollars an acre in the forties. Today the process has reversed. The so called "goat land" today demands several thousand dollars per acre, compared to fifteen hundred for the good black land farms. 

Every town of any size in the western part of the county had someone with large ware houses and bought wool and mohair .George Caskey in Florence bought wool and mohair. Jay Wolf bought wool and mohair in Georgetown. Some wool and mohair was sold in Salado and Lampasas.

Most of the goats were Angoras, and was raised for their hair as well as cabrito. A few Spanish goats were raised to clear brush that was too rough for Angoras. Angoras would get hung up in briars where Spanish goats fared ok. Most of the Spanish eventually were sent to slaughter houses for the cabrito market. San Antonio had about the only market for butcher goats.

This brings to my mind a story and I think you will enjoy hearing it. Frank Overby and Hudson Adams bought a double deck load of Spanish goats and hired Roy Spears to drive Mr. Adams truck with the goats to San Antonio. The truck would haul about 200 hundred head of goats at a time. The top deck was open at the top. It was a hot day and the old truck had no air conditioning and Roy felt a need for a cool beer. So he parked at the edge of the building that housed the beer joint in south Austin. When Roy left the building after having his beer he noticed that all the top deck of coats had jumped out of the truck and onto the roof of the building and then onto the ground where the roof lowered to the back. If you ever knew Roy, you would appreciate what I am telling He just went on with half a load and unloaded them at the Stockyards in San Antonio. He then went home to Georgetown and went to bed.

 The next morning Frank called the Stockyards to see how their goats sold and was told that there were only half as many goats as they had started with. They had invested  six hundred dollars for the goats and another fifty to have them hauled. Roy was called, and after several rings brought him to the phone. The question was what happened to the other goats. Roy made no hones about it, he told them exactly what had happened even to the thirst for a beer. Then he said, I don't know what you are going to do about it and don't really care. I suppose those Mexican kids that were chasing the coats would find good use for them; he then went back to sleep.

Some ranchers sheared their own sheep and goats, but most of the large ranches had it done by shear, no crews that were expert in the process. There were crews from Georgetown who did most of the shearing in the county. Pete Alaman had a rig that could handle as many as eight shearers. A good shearer could do as many as 50 a day. Tom Lozano also ran a shearing crew during the shearing season. Angora goats required shearing twice a year. Ten cents a head for goats was the going rate with double charge for the billies. Sheep required more time and they demanded twice as much. This did not sound like much money for the back breaking work, but during the forties and fifties it was enough to put frijoles on the table.

In the early spring before sheep shearing time the sheep had to be tagged. This was shearing around the tail head so that the wool would not get messed up from the green forage that the sheep ate this time of year. Also if the sheep had not had their tails docked, this procedure was done at the same time. The right time to do the docking was when the lambs were new born.

 The price of wool and mohair fluctuated with the demand. Mohair usually brought a better price than wool. Kid hair was the highest price since it was finer and could he used for making the better quality fabrics. Wool was graded on its length and cleanness. Some sheep like the Rambouilet breed was called fine wool where black face sheep such as the Suffock was more coarse. The amount of oil in the wool was also a factor.

 Fat lambs were also raised for the Easter market. The favorite kind of lamb was a cross between the Rambouillet and the Suffock. This produced a big lamb with a smutty nose Some ranchers used cross bred bucks on their ewes to get the same results .The lamb did not have to have a black face so long as it showed some dark color around its nose.

 The breeding herd was kept pure to the choice of breed, but by crossing the ewe on to a big black face buck gave some hybrid vigor and a lamb that was more meaty and sold better on the market. All of these crossbred lambs were sold regardless of sex.

 Both sheep and angora goats require a lot of attention besides shearing and docking. Parasites have to be controlled  religiously, stomach worms take their toll each year by drawing on the vitality to the extent of death if not controlled. The old method was drenching twice a year. Each animal had to be restrained and given a dose of Medication by mouth. My friend Leonard Redear had a method that beat having to station jugs of medication on each corner post in the corral. He carried a plastic bag on his back with enough medication for several hundred head. The back pack also had a hose connected to the bag with an applicator to administer one dose at a time. Leonard would walk through the herd and catch an animal that was crowded together and give the dose by exerting the tube down the throat. He would then mark the back of each animal that not treated. When all the animals had marks on their backs, he knew he had treated them all. When all the sheep or goats were drenched, they would be turned out to graze with no signs of stress or discomfort.

 Spanish goats, for some reason do not require this annual treatment for stomach parasites. They browse mostly and do not get their mouths next to the ground where the eggs of parasites hang out. This might be the main reason for their being able to live free of the worms. They also are easier to raise, providing the fences are tight and well kept. They do not have to be shorn or handled as often. The Spanish goat is also more prolific. It is common for a female to raise two sets of twins each year.

 As I said before, most ranchers in the early years raised Angora oats because of the mohair market. Spanish goats were used solely for brush control. Mohair was the cash crop

As the population began to increase in Williamson County, problems began to arise for the sheep and goat rancher. Dog packs began to prey on sheep and goats One dog is usually no problem, but when they start running in packs, it became a sport with them to kill the slow moving sheep and goats. Coyotes have always been a problem for ranchers. Unlike dogs, a coyote will usually only kill what they need for food. Also, the Govt. Trappers kept them in control. Bob cats and red foxes are also a menace to young animals.

Screw worms are a constant problem up into the late sixties when the eradication program was put into effect. During the warm season, which is usually about eight months of the year, the ranchers were plagued with the screw worm in all domestic animals. Any fresh wound would be infected if not treated. 

What finally put an end to wool and mohair was synthetic fibers coming in to replace natural fibers. The mills changed over from natural fibers to synthetic and this caused the market to drop drastically. The man made articles were cheaper and found favor with the public.

In the eighties and nineties the demand returned for natural fibers, but the cost of restoring the looms  to natural fibers was expensive. In spite of all, the demand is getting stronger again, but foreign countries, like Australia and New Zealand are furnishing the raw material. With the land prices here and the land getting cut up, there just isn't any one left to raise the critters in this county. 

The Spanish Goat market has gown and most of the goats are now Spanish or crossed with Boer blood. Where Spanish goats were bringing two to three dollars per head, they are now selling up to fifty dollars per head. Taylor has a big goat sale each Wednesday and for those who have a taste for "cabrito" can get all they want on that day of the week. Be prepared to pay more than choice beef for goat meat. 

Most of the goats are shipped over seas now. I am not informed as to who is the best consumer. I have heard France and Japan as good buyers for goat meat. They also eat horse meat, and have created an unreal market for packer horses. 

As for lamb meat, Texans are not noted for being eaters of sheep meat in any form personally had rather have a rack of lamb than most any other kind of meat. It also makes excellent barbeque. But the fact remains there isn't any lamb meat to be offered at the super markets except. What had been shipped in from New Zealand or some other place away from Texas. Ft Worth has always had a good market for lambs on foot, but they are shipped to northern cities to be processes. 

Special care has to be taken in butchering lambs. If the fleece ever touches the meat, it leaves a taste like wool that is offensive. This is the only reason I can think of that might cause local people from liking sheep meat. As for myself, I can eat a lot more lamb or mutton meat than beef without getting indigestion. More education needs to be given in the proper method of butchering sheep to avoid the distasteful wool flavor. I am sorry that I did not include some demonstrations of lamb dressing when I was an Agent for the Ag. Extension Service in the fifties. Cotton and grain sorghum and beef seemed to always get the attention.

We did attend a Seminar in Junction one year on the Kothman Ranch for sheep and goats. We got to see all the right ways so far as raising and shearing, but nothing about eating the meat. I did try to chew some tobacco, since everyone was doing it. It did not work for me. I was one sick hombre and never tried it again.


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